Hurdles race source flickr author Tom Page

What's the ideal process to make content and technology fit in my next digital project?

Leading a successful web project is hard. Maintaining its success... even harder. Think of it like running a marathon with hurdles. Often the hurdles arise from the focus on technology decisions above content. Here we provide some guidance on how to overcome those hurdles and in what order.

Photo of Koen Platteeuw
Wed, 2015-09-30 15:27By koen

In broad lines, we've split up the process into three phases: Planning, Building (or Implementation) and Maintaining (Live). Each of these phases has sub areas we need to work on. Below, we'll look at each phase in more detail.
 

Digital Project Governance

 

Planning

Project Fundamentals

During the planning phase, we start by identifying the stakeholders involved and creating a project team. This team then defines the project goals (Don't forget these should be aligned with the organisation's goals). For each of the goals we identify the matching key performance indicators. In parallel, we need to define the target audience of our digital project. This can include user and audience analysis, but can also be based on previously gained insights about your market and audience. We also recommended writing down the messages and branding principles, so these won't require adjustments later on.

Project Building Blocks

We could describe the above as project fundamentals. Once these are in place, it's time for the building blocks. We can develop a project specific content strategy, or even better, if the organisation already has a general content strategy, we can adapt it to our project. Likewise, we can set our design principles.

If we have defined the site objectives, its audience and content strategy, we have a pretty good idea of what the site/app/technology should do for us. That means we are ready to gather the technical requirements of the project and prioritise these. Don't underestimate the prioritisation of requirements. it's a real minefield. Have you reached a negotiated agreement? Then start analyzing these requirements and turn them into an implementation plan.  

Project Methodology

During project planning, the team needs to take a few more decisions. What project management approach will we take?  Who will be the technology site owner? And who will take the lead from the content perspective? How will these people work together? What if there is conflict? Who has the last word? Are there any other roles and responsibilities to be defined?
But also, already looking a bit further, how will our organisation go about content governance?  

Implementation

Create

The creation phase of a new website is probably the best known. It's what we traditionally called "Design & Build". In this step we create the designs of the website, taking into account the design principles, key messaging & branding and the content strategy; all of which have been developed in the planning stage. It is highly recommended (not to say 'compulsory') that content production is already starting in this phase, so future testing can happen with (part of) the actual content rather than Lorem Ipsum copy.

Prepare to go live

Simultaneously we need to get ready for the big day. That means, creating a launch plan. Don't wait for this until the site is ready. Also set up an editorial calendar for the first months and agree how you will track project performance beyond the launch date. We recommend agreeing on a reporting template for site performance, based on the previously mentioned KPIs. (For further information on launching a new site, we refer to a previous article: "10 things to remember before launching that great new site").

When these steps are well underway, we can start on three other tricky areas which are testing, migration and training. Note that testing should not be reserved for when all development is nearing completion. The sooner you start on it, the more useful the gathered intelligence will be.

It's (a)live!

Hurrah, you made it. The site is published. But did you know that websites are living creatures that needs to be appropriately fed, undergo regular health checks, and exercise to ensure physical fitness? 

Food

I guess this is the most obvious part of a site. You need to feed the beast. So you need to create, review, publish and update content. This work includes media production, translations, input of external data, etc.

Fitness level

Keeping your site in shape is more than just adding new content to it. We need to exercise. From a content perspective, don't forget to review, update or archive content where necessary. Also your technology needs to be maintained up to date. (security updates, compatibilities with new emerging devices or operating systems, etc.). Don't forget to give the editor base some love! Teams evolve over time. Regularly retrain them and listen to their feedback. It will lead to significant gains.

Health

Adding new content is actually the easiest part. Keeping it "fit" is already a bit harder. But to see if a site is working well, what we really need are regular health checks. And there are a lot of things to monitor & measure!

  • Hosting: How is your hosting setup performing? Is it reliable? As content & usage grows, is it still at the right capacity, or do you need to upscale? 
  • Content: Is the published content generating the expected outputs? Is it being consumed? Is it being shared? Are these actions really helping you convert? Does it really add to the bottom line, or does it only generate futile user traffic?
  • Content governance: Are the processes you drew working? Do people respond to their responsibilities? Is content produced timely and with the expected quality? Is older content being reviewed as required?
  • Site usage: Who's using the site? What sections work and which don't? Are we getting the conversions we wanted? Where do people leave our site? Is that expected?
  • Security: Does my site have any security breaches? Are there any external threats I need to foresee?
  • Testing: Don't stop testing once the site is published. That could be automated testing to detect if the technology is working as it's supposed to. But complimentary, you can also do user testing, to see if your site has a good usability record, and a correct acceptance among your target audience.  

​We recommend you join the findings of your monitoring efforts in a recurring report, based on the format previously agreed. Regular reporting helps to remind people what the main goals were and helps take data driven decisions on improvements in the future.  

Conclusion

Going through the above process doesn't offer any guarantees for a perfect project, but it will help you get closer. As a final comment, don't forget to take your insights and "health check" results back to the drawing board for planning future improvements! This isn't a linear process, but rather circular. Once the site is live, you need to continue the strategic thinking and the optimisation. Because the premises you used at the start of the project, won't be valid forever. Pivoting your focus quickly when circumstances change, will help you maintain your gained ground.  

(Top image credits: IMG_9454 by Tom Page)